Construction Accident Law
Most construction accidents in cities like Detroit and Grand Rapids are caused by the negligence of sub-contractors and their employees, because it is primarily sub-contract employees that perform much of the hands-on work. Our most common types of cases as experienced construction accident law attorneys tend to involve a sub-contractor employee who is seriously injured. When this happens, the typical “exclusive remedy” of Michigan’s Worker’s Compensation laws do not apply. This allows our attorneys to typically bring a lawsuit for injuries and pain and suffering damages against the general contractor, owner and other subcontractors. Under Michigan construction law, each of these entities owes various legal duties to the injured construction worker. There may be additional liability or indemnification by other entities involved in the construction project.
Construction site injury and death cases are usually very complex, and will involve an understanding of the legal structure and liability of many different entities involved, including that of various contractors, sub-contractors, and the general contractor, as well as the many different insurance policies that will be involved.
When a construction accident injury occurs but it involves an employee in the course and scope of his employment with his employer, the injured worker’s sole remedy against his or her immediate employer is by filing a Worker’s Compensation claim. The “exclusive remedy” of Michigan’s Worker’s Compensation law will apply in this situation.
Therefore, to bring a successful cause of action sounding in negligence, the construction accident attorney must look to the general contractor, owner of a project and/or other sub-contractors involved if he or she is to obtain full and fair compensation for a fall or other injury that occurs.
SUBCONTRACTOR LIABILITY IN CONSTRUCTION SITE LAWSUITS
General negligence principals pertain to a claim against another subcontractor who can be held liable to an injured worker if an independent legal duty can be established under common law negligence principals. Loweki v Ann Arbor Ceiling & Partition Co., LLC, 489 Mich 157 (2011, 809 NW 2nd 553) June 6, 2011.
OWNER AND/OR GENERAL CONTRACTOR LIABILITY UNDER MICHIGAN’S CONSTRUCTION LAW
A subcontractor injured on a construction project may bring a lawsuit against a project owner or a general contractor if he or she is able to establish the following:
- The defendant, either the property owner or general contractor, failed to take reasonable steps within its supervisory or coordinating authority;
- To guard against readily observable and avoidable danger;
- That created a high degree of risk to a significant number of workmen;
- In a common work area.
Ormsby v Capital Welding, Inc., 471 Mich 45, 684 NW 2nd 320 (2004).
Moreover, for the project owner to be liable, the Plaintiff must prove that the owner “retained control” of the project and that the mere right to control an independent contractor’s work is insufficient to establish the “retained control” theory against the owner. Candelari v BC General Contractors, Inc., 236 Mich App 67, 600 NW2nd 348 (1999).
Because the legal proofs are very specific under Michigan law to finding legal liability for injuries or deaths against a general contractor and an owner of a project, extensive and very specific legal discovery must take place once a lawsuit is filed.
Making a FOIA request for OSHA records should be done in every construction site accident case. Attorneys should also request all contracts and certificates of liability insurance. Most construction site injuries involve post-incident reports and documentation, and many larger entities will also do a preventability analysis. While these reports may or may not be admissible at trial depending on the facts, they are discoverable. Relevant personnel files, policy and procedural manuals should also be obtained and may also offer important evidence regarding responsibility and legal liability for the many different entities involved in larger construction projects. Finally, equipment preservation, documentation of “other similar incidents”, and depositions of key witnesses will be critical.